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1987 …2023

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Personal profile

Personal profile

I am currently a Reader in molecular and environmental microbiology with a particular interest in the evolutionary ecology of bacterial biofilms and environmental pseudomonad biology. I contribute to the delivery of teaching for a variety of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) programme modules, as well as running undergraduate Hons research projects, and my research group has regularly hosted visiting students and internships. I am a member of the Research Degrees Assessment Panel and our School’s Health and Safety Committee co-chair. I am also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and the Secretary for the Royal Society of Biology in Scotland Council, and a Senior Fellow of Advance HE.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Zoology and Cell Biology from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, confered in 1986, which was followed by a MSc(Hons) in Cell Biology in 1988 and a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology in 1993 at Auckland. Prior to joining Abertay in 2007, I undertook two postdoctoral research positions at the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, a University Research Lectureship at Plant Sciences, and a year as a researcher at the NERC Centre for Hydrology and Ecology (CEH) at Oxford.

My research is currently focussed on the (i) evolutionary ecology of the archetypal Wrinkly Spreader biofilm-former and community biofilm-formation, (ii) antibiotic resistance in hospital pathogens which form biofilms, (iii) expression of bio-surfactants by environmental pseudomonads, many of which also produce biofilms, and (iv) bioinformatics analysis and modelling of unknown proteins found in the genomes of pseudomonads. Our work has involved a number of PhD and MbRes students and has resulted in the publication of primary reserach articles, opinion pieces and reviews. Our work and collaborations have been enabled by funding from NERC, Royal Society of Edinburgh, the ERASMUS programme, and the Nigerian Petroleum Technology Devoplment Fund (PTDF) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Tetfund). 

We are currently looking for MbRes (one year) and PhD (three year) students to join our research group. Interested applicants should in the first instance contact Dr Spiers ( before submitting an application through Abertay University's on-line system. We currently do not have funds to support students, so applicants must be either self-funded or intending to apply for funding from an external agency.


I have been involved in the delivery of teaching across a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes since joining Abertay, and have also been involved in programme development and reviews. My current teaching responsibilities for 2022-2023 include:

  • Module leader for EEM105 Introduction to Environmental Sciences where I am responsible for lectures, tutorials, the field trip and assessments.
  • Moderator for FOR401 Forensic Applications of DNA where I moderate assessments and grades.
  • Laboratory demonstrator for LSC101 Biology Principles and Practice where I am responsible for the microbiology laboratories.
  • Module leader for LSC201 Molecular Biology and Genetics where I am responsible for lectures, tutorials, laboratories and assessments.
  • Laboratory demonstrator for LSC203 Medical Microbiology where I am responsible for laboratories and assessments.
  • Moderator for LSC401 Project Research Methods where I am responsible for assessment moderation.
  • Supervisor for LSC402 Honours Projects where I am responsible for project supervision and assessments.
  • Lecturer for LSC404 Advanced Pathophysiology where I am responsible for a group project and assessment.
  • Tutor for SCN506 MSci Project module where I am involved in student discussions and presentations, and I am responsible for assessments.


Research interests

As an environmental microbiologist, my interests are in the adaptation of bacteria to complex environments. My approach is to combine aspects of molecular microbiology, microbial ecology and evolution, and although this might seem abstract, close connections can be drawn with bacterial adaptation in agriculture, veterinary and medical situations.

Key words : Bacterial adaptation; bacterial biofilms; bacterial plasmids; bacterial surfactants; bioinformatics; environmental microbiology; experimental evolution; microbiology; modelling; molecular microbiology; Pseudomonas biology.

Research Supervision


  • Raji Bamanga (PhD). Characterisation of surfactant-expressing bacteria and their potential bioremediation properties from hydocarbon-contaminated and uncontaminated soils. Second supervisor (Abertay, 2016 – 22).
  • Robyn Jerdan (PhD). Understanding the eco-evolutionary dynamics of air-liquid interface biofilms in radiating populations and multi-species communities. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2017 – 21).
  • Kamaluddeen Kabir (PhD). Bioprospecting surfactants produced by Pseudomonas spp. isolated from soil for potential application in biotechnology. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2014 – 17). 
  • Habibu Abdu (PhD). Investigating the role of glutathione and glutathione biosynthetic genes in the adaptation of Anopheles gambiae to insecticides. Second supervisor (Abertay, 2013 – 16).
  • Ibrahim Mohammed (PhD). Screening environmental pseudomonads for characteristics suitable for a bio-engineered oil remediation agent. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2011 – 16).
  • Kimberley McLaughlin (MbRes). Wrinkly Spreaders, wrinkleality and fitness. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2014 – 16).
  • Patricia Dello Sterpaio (PhD). The impact of bacteria on the biophysics of water retention and flow in soil. Principal supervisor from late 2009 (Abertay, 2009 – 14).
  • Helen Downey (PhD). The development of a transparent soil and its implication in imaging root trajectories and root bacteria interactions. Second (academic) supervisor (Abertay, Joint JHI-Abertay studentship, 2010 – 13).
  • Yvette Udall (MbRes). The evolution of P. fluorescens SBW25 in glass bead column and static microcosms shows an environmental effect on the wrinkleality of Wrinkly Spreader adaptive mutants. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2012 – 13).
  • Anna Koza (PhD). Adaptation and niche construction by Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2008 – 12). 
  • Ayorinde Folorunso (MbRes). Bioinformatics investigation of bacteria cellulose synthesis operons amongst the Proteobacter. Principal supervisor (Abertay, 2011 – 12).
  • Kate Bailey (PhD). Academic supervisor until 2006 (Oxford, Joint CEH-Oxford studentship, 2003 – 7).
  • Stefanie Gehrig (PhD). Adaptation of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 to the air-liquid interface: a study in evolutionary genetics. Academic supervisor from 2004 (Oxford, 2002 – 5).
  • Jacob Malone (PhD). Analysis of the structure-function relationship of WspR, a GGDEF response-regulator. Academic supervisor from 2004 (Oxford, 2002 – 5).

Leadership, Management and Administrative Roles / Experience

Joint Lead for REF UoA 6/7 (from 2022); Deputy Lead for the Experimentation & Systems Modelling Pooled Excellence Area (from 2022); Environment Theme Leader (2016 – 22); Theme Leaders Group (2016 – 22); REF 2021 Champion Team Member (2016 – 21); Research Degrees Advisory Panel (from late 2017); Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee (from 2016); Health and Safety Subcommittee (from 2014); and University Biological Safety Officer (from 2014).

Programme Leaders Group (2016 - 20); School Academic Committee (from 2016); Student Voice Programme Committee (from 2016); Deans of Science and Engineering in Scotland Education Group (from 2012 but currently inactive); School Health and Safety Committee (Co-Chair) (Chair 2014 – 18; Co-chair from 2019); Genetic Modification Safety Committee (Chair) (from 2014); School Safety Officer (from 2014); School Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (2015 – 18); and Graduate School Postgraduate Student Forum (from 2016).

Employment History

Postdoctoral Researcher, Biochemistry, University of Oxford (1994 - 98).

Postdoctoral Researcher, Plant Sciences, University of Oxford (1998 - 2001).

Departmental Research Fellow, Plant Sciences, University of Oxford (2002 - 03).

University Research Lecturer, Plant Sciences, University of Oxford (2002 - 06).

Senior CEH-Oxford Research Fellow, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Oxford (2006 - 07).



NERC Peer Review College (from 2012); Royal Society of Biology in Scotland, Branch Council (Ordinary) member (2016 – 18) and Honorary Secretary (2018 – 23).


Current Professional Memberships

European Society for Evolutionary Biology, Ordinary member (from 2012); Federation of European Microbiological Societies, Affiliate member (from 2013); Higher Education Academy, Senior Fellow (from 2017); International Society for Microbial Ecology, Ordinary member (from 2006); Microbiological Society, Ordinary member (from 2000). Royal Institution, Full member (from 2009); Royal Society of Biology, Fellow (from 2008); Society for Applied Microbiology, Member (from 2013); and Scottish Alliance for Geoscience Environment and Society, Member (2007 – 20).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

Cellular and Molecular Biology, Doctor of Philosophy, Molecular and genetic analysis of RepA from the P307 replicon, University of Auckland


Cell Biology, MSc, Analysis of RepFlB from the IncFl plasmid group, University of Auckland


Cell Biology and Zoology, BSc, University of Auckland



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